Story and Photos by: Austin Legg
Most people know that black bears aren’t always black. In fact, they can come in several different colors ranging from light blonde to jet black and every shade in between. Over the past few years that I’ve been actively spring bear hunting, I would estimate that 98% of the bears I see are color phase bears, meaning they are not all black as their name intends. Since I have killed bears with blonde, chocolate, cinnamon, and even a few variations of those color phases, I figured it was time to focus on finding a bear with a jet black coat. A true black bear is probably the hardest color phase to find in this part of Idaho so that became my goal for the spring 2021 bear season.
My first hunt last spring was a quick after-work trip. It was late April, and I took a friend of mine, Sam, along with me. We were in a hurry after work but got to our primary glassing spot with a few hours of light remaining. It wasn’t long before I located a bear and wouldn’t you know it, it was jet black. The first bear sighting of the season and exactly what I was looking for. What luck.
We ranged the bear at about 700 yards, but it was moving quickly in and out of very thick brush. I sat behind my rifle and told Sam, “if he comes out, I’m prepared to take a shot and end my season on the first night.” Unfortunately, that opportunity didn’t come before shooting light ended. The good news was, a jet black bear was in the area and I had lots of season left to get back after him.
I made it back into that spot a few days later but this time I was by myself. I sat at the glassing spot for an hour or so scanning every inch of the hill side. Wouldn't you know it, I glassed up that same bear, on the same hillside. He was no more than 100 yards from where I had seen him the first time. I got set up in a prone shooting position, ranged the bear, adjusted my scope turrets and took aim. BOOM. I waited for that familiar crack when a bullet makes impact, but heard nothing but silence. The bear paused, looked around, and as I loaded a second bullet into the chamber, he ran back into the trees.
Swing and a miss.
I couldn’t believe it. Nerves? Excitement? Rushed the shot? I didn’t know what happened. I kept telling myself, “I had to have hit him.” I hiked to the location and scoured every inch of the hillside but found no blood or signs of an impact. Sure enough, it was a miss.
My third attempt for this bear wasn’t until the end of May. My hunting partners Sam and John went into the glassing spot early that day. I, on the other hand, had to wait until after work to join them. Hiking in that evening I had no idea what Sam and John had seen during the day. I hadn’t had a chance to talk to them. I just knew they had been there all day and I was hopeful they had some luck locating or even killing a bear. I couldn’t wait to check in with them.
I was hiking hard with my head down but about ¼ mile from camp, I caught movement in the brush up the hillside. Not just movement, but jet black movement. A bear, a black bear, and this time within about 400 yards. I watched the bear through my binos for a few minutes and realized this was the same bear from my two previous encounters. He was feeding about 200 yards from the hillside where I took a shot at him weeks before. At this range I knew I could drop him right where he stood. I got my rifle out and started getting set up for a shot. This was my opportunity for a little redemption, but there was a problem.
As I was getting ready to lay down behind the gun, a thought came to me… “There are two other people on this hunt." I was only ¼ mile from camp and this bear was easily visible from that location. I thought my hunting partners had surely spotted this bear and were likely moving into position for a shot. I stopped. What if they were moving into position for a shot and I took this bear out from under them? That isn’t cool. I would hate to take an opportunity away from someone else. Afterall, John was trying to harvest his first bear on this trip. I decided to leave the bear and hustle to camp as quickly as I could to catch up with my friends.
It didn’t take me long to get to camp and sure enough, both Sam and John were watching the bear through binoculars. I asked why they hadn’t yet moved in for a shot at the bear and was surprised at their answer. Both my hunting partners knew how badly I wanted a jet black bear, especially that particular bear, and they had decided to save it for me. I couldn’t help but feel grateful. Good hunting partners and good friends are hard to find.
By the time we were ready to move, the bear had fed its way back into the trees and was out of sight. We decided to close the distance and get set up in a good shooting position, just in case it fed back out of the brush before dark.
About two hours later our plan worked out perfectly. The bear fed out from the tree line in the same spot he went in, and I was already set up for a shot. It was a simple task from then on. Slow, steady squeeze. One shot from the .300RUM and it was all over. The round impacted just below the neck and the bear did one roll before crumpling up. As we walked down to the bear, I couldn’t believe how many encounters it took to not only harvest this specific bear, but the hours, days, and years of bear hunting just to find a jet black bear. When I got up to him it all hit me. This bear was beautiful. Absolutely perfect and as black as the ace of spades. There really is nothing better than spring bear hunting. Well, maybe spring bear hunting with good friends that help on the pack out is better.